Girls premiered last night on HBO and it was everything I hoped it would be--honest, smart, hilarious and realistic. Lena Dunham just gets it. While the first episode lived up to the hype for most of us, there has, believe it or not, been some criticism. The L.A. Times seemed to think it was too self-aware; Two-and-a-Half Men creator Lee Aronsohn said last week that television had reached “vagina saturation” meaning there are too many shows about girls; The Hairpin noticed how disappointingly white it is; and Andrea Peyser felt that Lena Dunham was too fat.
However, we’ve yet to find one critique of the show’s wardrobe, which, like the show itself, is closer to reality than just about any of the similar shows that came before it. Perhaps so much so that most people wouldn't notice it. It’s not a fashiony show and it’s unlikely to make any designer a household name the way Sex and the City did for Manolo Blahnik. If anything, we could see some of the characters lusting after a pricey A.P.C. blouse for a job interview or a pair of Rachel Comey shoes from Bird. Aside from the obviously comparable Sex and the City, several shows have depicted the lives of single career women in the big city, but we don’t think any of them have done so with as much accuracy as Girls.
In That Girl, Marlo Thomas starred in the first ever series about an independent career gal. Her pretty, pastel suits and Chanel purses were realistic in that they were representative of the mod style of that time, and people did just look more perfect back then, but Ann Marie’s wardrobe may have been just a tad too chic and expensive for an aspiring actress taking temp jobs.
In The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary Richards’ style was actually pretty realistic and the show especially comparable to Girls in that it was heralded as a breakthrough “sophisticated” show with real characters. Richards was a 30-something Minnesotan with a New York career and that’s how she dressed--mixing classic cold-weather staples with flavorful ‘70s workwear. It was realistic and aspirational at the same time.
In Friends, Monica and Rachel both tended to look like they’d walked out of a J. Crew catalog, though Phoebe’s eccentric style was a step in the right direction (and she could afford to dress a bit kooky since she didn’t have a traditional job.)
In Gossip Girl, a show known for fashion as much as SATC, students navigate the city in minis, 6-inch heels and Tory Burch purses. Fun to see, but not exactly realistic.
In Sex and the City, just about every character’s wardrobe, especially in the later seasons (remember in season one when Miranda would walk around in no makeup and overalls?) didn’t quite match up with their paychecks. Most noticeably: Carrie Bradshaw, a freelance writer, could not have afforded that collection of Manolos, Dior bags, and enough designer outfits to never repeat--even if her apartment was rent-controlled. Still, we all bought into the fantasy and couldn’t wait to see what Carrie would wear next.
The most noticeable difference about Girls to me is that the characters don't look as weirdly polished. Of course, they're not going to look bad either. Girls' costume designer, Jenn Rogien told The Cut, “We really did want them to be realistic and approachable, but we still wanted to elevate their look just a smidge so that was in the world of a TV show. We wanted to show the raw, slightly gritty girl that Lena had created.” The elevating can be seen in the tailoring. “For the characters that are supposed to look good, we wanted them to look great; for the characters who are supposed to be disheveled, we wanted them to look disheveled in the right way.”
Nothing is instantly recognizable as a spring 2012 piece from [blank] designer. Granted, the four female lead characters are in their early 20s and have graduated college only recently--they can’t afford Manolos and even if they could, it wouldn’t make sense for them to wear them. (It doesn’t really make sense for anyone who doesn’t have a car service to wear them as a day-to-day accessory.) Hannah wears vintage-looking lace-up boots with socks with tights with a high-waisted skirt and printed button-down--to work. It's slightly grungy and mismatched, but sometimes that's how you have to look when you live in Brooklyn and it's cold out. Also worth noting: they're not all hipsters. Another character wears a pink Juicy Couture sweatsuit with conviction.
Another thing all pre-Girls shows had in common was that their female leads looked like beautiful, thin, well-coiffed actresses, whereas Girls’ girls look like real girls. They don't all look like supermodels; they all seem to have their natural hair colors and their haircuts are simple, not trendy.
Extravagant designer duds may have worked for shows like Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, but when a show is about people who really exist, sometimes less is more.